Amedeo Modigliani Portrait of a Woman with Hat
Amedeo Modigliani's 1917 portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne, titled in English Portrait of a Woman with Hat is a stunning and iconic work of Parisian modernism. The pair had a tempestuous and intense love affair that ended with the artist's death just three years later and the suicide a few days following his by the pregnant Hebuterne who evidently could not face life alone. His common-law wife, Portrait of a Woman with Hat dates from the year they met, and it is perhaps for this reason that it reveals little about his personality. It is a rare vision of hope and enthusiasm, despite the fact that the empty blue eyes of the model reminds the viewer that this portrait is predominantly an exercise in form. The pairing of three dominant shades, pink, orange, and black, recalls the works of Henri Matisse, and manages to divide the figurative representation into large blocks of color, while the stretched neck and the long oval face seem to impart a languid rhythm and form an image dominated above all by the curvature of the hat.
In February 1917, Modigliani befriended the young Jeanne Hebuterne, then nineteen, whose sweetness and shyness did not draw much attention from the extravagant artistic milieu of Montparnasse. Amedeo and Jeanne departed on a love affair that was strong and deep, and lasted until both their deaths. As evidence of this relationship, tender yet undermined by the restlessness of Modigliani, are about twenty-five of the most beautiful portraits painted of the artist. Indeed, each of his portraits of Hebuterne seem to be a dramatic departure from his usual style, emphasizing at once an epiphanic joy at being in her presence and a calculated relaxation at being able to exercise formal innovations and new styles when depicting her likeness.
Further drawing attention to her apparent innocence and youth, the artist uses the wide-brimmed hat to create a kind of halo around the head of Hebuterne, making visual reference to images of the Virgin Mary and the saints. Modigliani's sweetheart adopts a thoughtful pose, as the warm rays of Summer seems to emanate directly from the model, and more precisely from her blue eyes. Yet in contrast to the paintings of his bohemian cohorts, Hebuterne is not of this world – her light casts no shadows as she is removed from the humanizing plane of the artistic milieu and raised on a pedestal through a startling harmony and uniformity that seems to belie any criticism of her being or character.
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